Unlawful arrest: Court slams N50m damages against EFCC, condemns arrest in court premises

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to pay the sum of N50million to a businessman, Babatunde Morakinyo and publicly apologise to him for unlawful arrest and detention.

The trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo gave the orders while ruling on a fundamental rights enforcement suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/437/2020 by Morakinyo against the EFCC as the sole respondent.

Justice Ekwo declared as unlawful and a breach of Morakinyo’s rights to personal liberty and dignity his arrest on March 19, 2020, within the premises of the Federal High Court by officials of the anti-graft agency.

The judge said an order is hereby made directing the respondent (EFCC) to publish a public apology to the appellant in two national dailies within 14 days of the grant of this order and notify the applicant accordingly.

He also awarded N50 million exemplary damages in favour of the applicant and against the respondent “for abusing its statutory powers and arbitrarily trampling on the fundamental rights of the applicant.”

Justice Ekwo frowned at the decision of the EFCC to arrest the applicant within the premises of the court, noting that such act was not only a disrespect for the court but also unlawful because no law allows such practice, adding that by arresting Morakinyo in court, officials of the EFCC “demonstrated apparent disregard for the judiciary as an arm of government and ruptured its integrity.

“The act is an aberration of the tenets of democracy we profess to practice. In a democracy, no arm of government is to be made to appear as subjugated to the other.

“Unconstitutional and illegal courthouse arrest is condemnable and punishable. And, the courthouse arrest of the applicant by the respondent is no less so,” Justice Ekwo said.

The judge rejected EFCC’s claim that it re-arrested Morakinyo preparatory to his arraignment at the Lagos division of the Federal High Court on a separate charge and added that the EFCC could only re-arrest an individual, under any reason, after obtaining an order of the court.

“Where the court has granted bail to a person and the person has met the terms of bail, and release warrant has been issued to him, but he is facing arraignment in another court, he need not be re-arrested. He can be served the subsequent charge and given the opportunity to appear in court on the date fixed for his arraignment.

“The assumption that such a person is likely not to appear in court for the other trial is unfounded as his particulars of bail are in the custody of the court already.

“The court which he is appearing next has the discretion to grant him bail upon the previous terms or modify same. He is aware that it is in his interest to appear in court to answer the allegations against him.

“Therefore, there is no valid foundation for the subsequent arrest of the applicant on the excuse of a pending charge in Lagos when he had been granted bail by a court of coordinate jurisdiction in Abuja upon arraignment for another charge,” the judge said.

The EFCC had, on March 19, 2020 arraigned Morakinyo before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja on money laundering related charges.

The anti-graft agency claimed that Morakinyo allegedly used his firms to distribute about N9,016,385,467.01 taken from Kwara State Government coffers between 2009 and 2016, to former officials of the state.

Upon his arraignment on March 19, 2019, Morakinyo was granted bail, which he perfected, following which the judge endorsed the warrant for his release, but before he could exit the court premises, officials of the EFCC arrested him and detained him from March 19, 2020 until April 4, 2020 after a letter from the office of the Attorney General Federation, following a complaint by Morakinyo’s lawyer.

Morakinyo subsequently filed the fundamental rights enforcement suit to challenge his arrest in court and detention between March 19 and April 4, 2020, at the EFCC’s facility in Jabi, Abuja.

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